Three Questions People Are Asking When the Leader Leaves

Three Questions People Are Asking When the Leader Leaves
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

When a leader leaves, questions get asked.  

That’s because all transitions contain loss.  Even “positive” transitions.  Check out more in Traversing the Trapeze Bars of Transition.

(By the way, “positive transition” is often a phrase thrown around by leaders and organizations fearful of acknowledging the pain of the transition.  Like the parent who tries to distract her crying kid with the skinned knee by promising an ice cream cone).


Sure, some transitions are negative.  Some are neutral.  But ALL transition involves change and all change involves loss.  Better to acknowledge the loss and process it, or people will get stuck in mistrust.

So in the uncertain times during transition, people have questions.  And your organization needs to have answers.  Be prepared before the transition goes public to consider the three questions people are asking when the leader leaves.

1. Why is this person leaving?

People want to know “the real story.”  We’ve all heard enough cover ups and half-truths that we are suspicious by nature.  The key here is to tell the truth, but not tell everything.  Be honest, open, and forthright.  Try to be on the same page in what you communicate.

You do not have to tell the whole story, but you need to all tell the same story.

By the way, you will be tempted to tell more of the story, or “the other side,” especially when the questions get hard, or the person leaving decides to take the low road.  Don’t follow them  there.  Remember and hold on to this:  

People of integrity act, expecting to be believed. When they are not, they trust that time and truth will win the day. 

See more on how leavings can go wrong in Seven Learnings from Lousy Leavings

2. How does this leaving affect us?

We all care about what is going to happen to us.  What is going to change and how does that affect us?

The temptation here is to gloss over the change.  To talk about how things will be better.  Savvy leaders know transitions are a time for two powerful conversations:

  • How are you doing?  Allow them to process loss.  Let them express grief.  Things ARE changing and they ARE losing something.  Love William Bridges here:

You don’t cross the line separating change management from transition management until you have asked “Who will lose (or has lost) what?” -William Bridges

  • Here is what is NOT changing.  Transitions are fantastic times to remind everyone about the mission and values of an organization.  A chance to talk with the staff and clients about what you remain committed to.  

3. What are you going to do about this leaving?

People want to know what you are going to do about it.  Will there be a search process?  Are there any shifts to plans or priorities for the near future?  Who do I report to now?  Who do I go to during the interim time with questions? 

“I don’t know” is an acceptable answer, as long as it is not always the answer.  

Bonus Question:  How are you (the leaders left behind) doing?

Sometimes people will circle back to how you, the leaders left behind, are processing all this.  I encourage that you must model what you expect.  So be honest about your grief, name your loss, share what you are excited about for the future.  

You don’t have to throw anyone under the bus, but your authenticity during this time will encourage and embolden honest conversations that move you past stuck.

Thomas helps leaders and teams navigate what’s next of transitions.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him here

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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